Friday, January 17, 2014

Michael Sean Winters Mounts Personal Attack Against Mary Hunt: My Reflections

As anyone reading Bilgrimage over the long run may know, I have a thing about National Catholic Reporter Michael Sean Winters's persistent attacks on mouthy, uppity women: I don't like these attacks.  As I noted last July, I've watched Winters  for some time now slam women with whom he disagrees in a particularly personal, particularly dismissive and disrespectful way, and have concluded that there's a pattern here: it's a pattern that's more than a little misogynistic.

While Winters dares to disagree with powerful men at various times--the men in the boys' club of beltway journalism and rectories to whom he generally confines his remarks and with whom he chats exclusively in a Cabot and Lodges kind of way--he reserves a special kind of snideness for women with whom he disagrees, especially when those women are smart, outspoken, and feminist. Winters's game is to claim that he and his clerical boys' club occupy the center of Catholic discourse, and from that centrist vantage point with its pretensions to be objective and balanced, he keeps the insights and contributions of anyone he regards as dangerously leftist at bay. That's his job, you understand: to do the dirty work of the political and religious right for it, by disciplining religious thinkers to the left of what the right considers to be centrist.

Women, in particular, he keeps at bay. Uppity women. Mouthy women. Feminist women who dare to critique the power structures critically important to him (especially the clerical boys' club) from the vantage point of feminism. 

I've written about this penchant in Winters's work previously, here and here, in addition to the piece to which the first link above points. I've watched Winters repeatedly trash fellow Catholic Anthea Butler of the University of Pennsylvania Religion Department, insinuating that she should not have tenure, or that she has no moral compass.

Winters has trashed Maureen Dowd, suggesting that she lacks intelligence. As the 2012 elections neared, Winters hopped over to CNN's religion blog right after CNN's Erick Erickson had incurred well-merited disdain by issuing a juvenile misogynistic tweet about the Democratic National Convention. Winters's objective? To inform the Democrats that "women's groups" were causing it to lose the Catholic vote. 

Since "women's groups" and "Catholic vote" are, of course, antithetical sides of an equation that will never balance. It goes without saying that Frances Kissling is beyond the pale for Winters--who considers her "ill-equipped to assess" (echoes of his insinuation that Maureen Dowd is intellectually dull or that Anthea Butler lacks a moral compass) what a Catholic faith leader might look like.

And then there's Mary Hunt. Whom Michael Sean Winters has a long history of attacking in a very personal way--see, e.g., here (and here)--and who responded to Winters's attack on Frances Kissling to which I just linked with a brilliant rejoinder that asks Winters bluntly who he imagines he is, as he wields his magic wand to declare this or that fellow Catholic outside the circle of Catholicism while he declares himself and others like him the norm by which the rest of us are defined as Catholic.

And now there's this: like Anthea Butler, who doesn't merit tenure and has no moral compass, or Maureen Dowd, who's intellectually challenged, or Frances Kissling, who is "ill-equipped to assess" what a Christian leader looks like, Mary Hunt is so "lacking in humility" that she's "chilling"--Mme. Defarge knitting at the foot of the guillotine. 

Oh, and by the way, she's deranged, completely myopic, and with her doctorate in theology, her shelf full of brilliant published work, and her years of ministry as a Catholic feminist, she demonstrates--you guessed it--a "complete lack of awareness" of her shortcomings. Unlike Mr. Winters, who is, you see, objective. Balanced. In the know. At the center of things.

A member of a club to which Mary Hunt can only dream of belonging.

At her Enlightened Catholicism blog site, Colleen Baker asks a very important question about what Michael Sean Winters has long done to women via his columns at National Catholic Reporter and what it seems the journal continues to permit him to do. She notes that the kind of animus against women we've been discussing lately as NCR shuts down its conversation threads after an outpouring of hateful commentary, much of it directed specifically against women, is right there in Michael Sean Winters's columns:

I have thought for some time it was the lack of editing regarding MSW's daily opinion pieces which was partially fueling the anti gay and anti women animus of commenting on NCR articles. MSW's attacks on female writers are much stronger in terms of personal put downs than his 'contra' articles on Robert George or other high profile conservative male writers. 

And so if NCR really wants to deal honestly and effectively with unacceptable misogyny in its comments threads, it needs to take a look at what some of its own columnists have long felt at perfect liberty to say about women as women . . . . 

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